All 802.11n Wi-Fi is NOT Equal

The black and white worlds of 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi are giving way to shades of gray with 802.11n. The days of simply knowing that the laptop you were going to buy included the latest Wi-Fi adapter are gone. 802.11n is dramatically different than its 802.11 Wi-Fi predecessors. It’s the first multidimensional Wi-Fi specification that makes product comparisons challenging. You need to dig deeper before you buy 802.11n Wi-Fi products.

What makes 802.11n different is the specification’s support of multiple radios and antennas that can transmit/receive multiple data streams – called spatial streams. In 802.11n vernacular, these send and receive antenna configurations are noted as 1×1, 1×2, 2×2, or 3×3. These numbers indicate how many transmit and receive antennas and radios are in an 802.11n access point (AP) or client. They determine how many different spatial streams of data can be sent at one time to improve signal reception.

More antennas and streams mean faster speeds, less dead zones, fewer dropped connections, and better coverage. 802.11n 1×1 Wi-Fi adapters don’t take advantage of 802.11n’s multi-stream capabilities so they can only reach a maximum data rate of 72 Mbps. A 1×2 802.11n adapter with two receive streams can double the maximum data rate to 150 Mbps. Take it up to 3×3, the maximum data link can reach 450 Mbps.

Choosing the right 802.11n solution is not only about speed, it’s also about more reliability and range in your
Wi-Fi connections. Check out this new animation that shows the power of 802.11n multiple data streams vs. single stream 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi.


2 thoughts on “All 802.11n Wi-Fi is NOT Equal

  1. An insightful and articulate post! As the peak PC buying season approaches, the enormous popularity of netbooks shows no signs of abating, as they remain an attractive option for those seeking an inexpensive, compact, and lightweight system for Internet connectivity. That connectivity primarily comes in the form of Wi-Fi, but given the need to keep costs down, the wireless chipsets found in many netbooks often support only the older 802.11g technology—not the newer and more capable 802.11n draft standard. -Jaime

  2. Very useful, thank you.
    Now what I want to know is: How can one determine if his or her WiFi card has 1×1, 1×2, 2×2 or 3×3 capabilities?
    As in, before you buy a laptop, how to retrieve hardware specifications of a wifi card and then determine how many antennas/spatial streams it has.
    This N wifi seems to be so new, that I truely seem to be a pioneer in trying to find out what wifi capabilities a wifi card has.
    But haven’t had any luck so far. No one bothers to specify these rather important specs. N=N right?
    Thank you for spreading the message that this is not the case 😉

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